Peter Oundjian is a big believer that when it comes to art, if you want to make something exciting, you’ve got to take risks. “Nobody believes something when it’s cautious,” he says. We’re chatting about his new role as the first principal conductor of the Colorado Symphony. Widely recognized as one of the most respected musicians on the world stage, Oundjian brings five decades of experience and a lot of personality to the podium, as well as a lofty platform of goals— getting new people into the seats and new musicians behind the conductor’s podium chief among them. Throughout the season, Oundjian is taking the podium himself for just six weekends, allowing for a greater diversity of guest conductors and musical collaborations that he hopes will attract new, bigger audiences to Boettcher Concert Hall. We caught up with him to learn more about his plans.
What does it mean to be a principal conductor?
Well, first of all, it means you conduct quite often. In my case, at least six weeks a year. It doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but it’s more than a relief pitcher does.
With the Colorado Symphony, I’m sort of responsible ultimately for, well, everything. We have a wonderful programming staff, but I am very involved in the programming, in deciding who will be a guest conductor or artist, and also hiring musicians. Maybe as important to all of that is developing a good relationship with the board, with the community and with the audience. You have to build a set of trust with the community.
What advice do you have for someone in the community interested in attending the symphony for the first time?
First of all, wear whatever you want. It is not formal. Absolutely the least elitist thing you could possibly do is come to the symphony. It is very, very inclusive. The musicians get nicely dressed and all that stuff—people want that—but it’s a very friendly atmosphere.
How should they decide which show to see?
If you’ve never been to a classical music concert, don’t come to something that looks like it’s the most heady thing imaginable. Find a program that maybe has some Mozart in it or some Haydn in it, or is described as something very romantic or very dramatic in some way.
But honestly, it doesn’t really matter in the end, because the energy of watching 80 to 120 people (and if there’s a choir, 250 people) all so integrated in one voice: it’s a fantastic experience. It’s the greatest example of human collaboration, a symphony orchestra. That’s a quote from a lot of people prior to me, but it’s one of my favorite quotes about it. Because it’s true.
What performance are you most looking forward to this season?
There’s an exciting week at the end of January when we’re doing basically two programs. It’s Mozart’s birthday on Jan. 27, so we are doing a kind of mini-festival called Mozart & Now, combining living composers with the music of Mozart. And the final program of the year is The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, which is a legendary piece. And it’s something that everyone should hear live once in their lifetime—it is so visceral.